Monthly Archive for May, 2009

Taste History Today: The Original Boston Cream Pie

The first Boston Cream Pie probably didn’t look like this one. But this Pie was purchased at the origin point of the Boston Cream Pie, the Parker House Hotel in Boston. If you are in town, swing by for Pie. But don’t eat there unless you like paying $60 for a terrible meal. My chicken was woefully overcooked, and my mom’s fried fish mournfully soggy. Even the famous Boston Cream Pie seems to have undergone some sort of morbid modernization. The Pie itself was good enough, but that was definitely redi-whip on the side.
You may be better off saving yourself the trip and baking The Pie from scratch using Parker House’s recipe.
A bit more on Boston Cream Pie from

Boston cream pie. A pie made of white cake and custard filling or topping. If chocolate icing is added, it is called “Parker House chocolate pie,” after the Parker House in Boston, Massachusetts, where the embellishment was first contrived. The pie goes back to early American history, when it was sometimes called “Pudding-cake pie,” or, when made with a raspberry jelly filling, “Mrs. Washington’s pie,” The first mention of the dessert as “Boston cream pie” was in the New York Herald in 1855.”

Although it was dubbed “Boston Cream Pie” in 1855, I don’t believe that it was The Pie as we know it. The chocolatey custard dessert has more of a late 19th c flavor profile. But I would say it warrants more research at a future date.

Retronovated Recipes: Maple Glazed Squab with Corn Bread Stuffing

This recipe is perfect for a romantic dinner for two.  I came up with it in 2005, while I was working on my thesis.  The flavors are based on 18th century game recipes;  the maple-vinegar glaze is important because it breaks up the gaminess of the meat.

Maple Glazed Squab with Corn Bread Stuffing
Inspired by recipes from American Cookery by Amelia Simmons

3 Squabs
2 tbsp Olive Oil

For the Stuffing:
2 cups cornbread, toasted
½ cup fresh parsley
1tsp Marjoram
1tsp Savory
4 leaves fresh Sage
1tsp Salt
1tsp Pepper
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
1 rib celery chopped
1/3 cup chicken stock
1/2 stick butter
1 egg

For the Glaze:
1/2 stick butter
½ cup real maple syrup
2 table spoons red wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Wash the squabs throughly and pat dry. Rub inside and outside with salt and pepper.
2. Mix toasted cornbread with seasonings, 3. In a skillet, cook onion in 1 tbsp butter until transparent.
Add celery and chicken stock, then cook 2-3 minutes more.
4. Add onion, celery, and chicken stock to cornbread. Add butter and egg. Mix thouroughly.
Stuff squab with stuffing, being careful not the stuff it too tight. Bake any remaining stuffing in the oven, until the top is browned.
5. Heat oil in a skillet, and brown squab on all sides, turning often. Transfer to oven.
6. Let squab roast for 30 minutes undisturbed, then glaze every 10 minutes for an additional 30 minutes until its juices run clear.
7. In the meantime, prepare the glaze: melt butter over low heat in pot, add maple syrup and vineger; salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer.
8. Serve over bed of stuffing, drizzled with glaze

Tasting Ancient Beer

Right: Spruce beer awaits, while a mint julep lurks in the background.

I spent my memorial day weekend with friends in the rolling green hills of Akron, Ohio.  Since several of them have been working on home brewing projects, I had the unique pleasure of sampling some home-brewed beers.

Of interest to you may be Mark’s Spruce Beer.  Spruce beer is an old fashioned home brew of which there have been several attempts to recreate.  Mark’s was deigned “not bad.”  It was a little flat, but the taste was appealing.  Made with brown sugar, it was rich like a gingerbread cookie, and had a flavor that staid on your tongue.  I wasn’t a huge fan, but many people really liked it.  Here is his recipe: 

Begin with small pot of water, approximately 60 fl oz.  Bring to a

boil for 20 mins.  Sanitize remaining tools.
Sugars will be 1 brown sugar cone (6oz) and approzimately 2.5oz pure
maple syrup.
Hops will be Northern Brewer pellets, .15oz for bittering, .1oz for flavoring.
#1728 scottish ale yeast, 1/2 pkt.
3/8 tsp spruce essence
Once water temp hit 170 deg, added ‘buckwheat packet’ to steep for 15
mins (don’t know if this will have any effect.)  It was a tea bag
replaced with buckwheat flour to try to impart a grain flavor.
Bring back to boil, add bittering hops for 30 mins.
Add flavor hops for 10 mins to boil.
Add spruce essence for 5 mins to boil.
cool to 80 deg, slosh back and forth in fermenter.
Add yeast, cap.

-The hot break was seemingly endless, which was quite annoying.  The
small batch makes for a lot of water loss, so I had to keep a lid on
it.  But with a lid on it the pot foams up a lot, and then you take
the lid off and all the hops are stuck to the side of the pot.  Then I
stir them back in and get another hot break, ad nauseum.

There was still a tremendous amount of fluid loss, probably 3/4 of the
pot boiled away.  I used water that went through a pur filter and then
a britta pitcher to bring the volume full.

I used the scottish ale yeast because of its very forgiving
temperature range (55-75f.)  Estimated beginning SG is around 1.05, I
expect a 70%


Additionally, Mike brought some Midas’ Touch Beer, a commercially brewed beer made from a 2,700 year old recipe:

“It is an ancient Turkish recipe using the original ingredients from the 2700 year old drinking vessels discovered in the tomb of King Midas. Somewhere between wine & mead; this smooth, sweet, yet dry ale will please the Chardonnay of beer drinker alike. (from the Dogfish Brewery Official Site).”
Left: Mark and his Beard pour a spruce beer.
Midas’s Touch smelled a little like bud light.  And sometimes a little like vomit.  But despite that, the flavor was amazing complex.  Brewed with honey, the flavor was similar to a mead, but still dark and rich like a stout ale.  
We also discussed the Anchor Brewing Company’s Ninkasi beer, made from a 6,000 year old Sumerian recipe that is generally considered the oldest beer recipe.  If you read cuneiform, you can make it yourself.  Here’s the recipe:

Thanks to Mike and Mark for all the info, and all the beer.

History Dish Mondays: Featherballs

You are gonna love these balls.

This week, in my ongoing Jewish-American cooking project, Ilana and I are attempting Featherballs:

Featherballs are essentially matzo balls, but are unique in the fact that they are flavored with nutmeg or ginger. My friend and cohort Ilana pointed out that ordinarily in matzo ball soup, it’s the broth that is the most flavorful, and the matzo balls added as filler. In this recipe, the flavor of the matzo balls are brought to the forefront. Additionally, these balls do have a light and fluffy texture–but we’ll get to that in moment.
I journeyed to Brooklyn to meet with Ilana and her boyfriend Jed, for a lesson in Matzo balls. They filled me in on some matzo ball facts: That they were normally made with butter or margarine, so they anticipated this recipe to be much richer, and possibly heavier. Additionally,
most New York matzo balls are fist-size, like the ones you’ll find at Katz’s or the 4th Ave. Deli. These featherballs were to be rolled the size of walnuts. Their are also two types of matzo balls–the light “floaters” and the dense “sinkers.” Neither are wrong, just a personal preference.
We whipped the eggs and the schmaltz until each were fluffy, then combined them and added the dry ingredients. We split the dough between two bowls, and flavored half with nutmeg, and half with ginger. The dry ingredients were added, and mixed by hand until just combined. Jed warned us that over mixing the ingredients would result in a matzo ball as hard as rock.
Jed also said that with most matzo ball recipe, you let the batter chill first, and then roll the balls. In the recipe, you roll first and then chill. We shrugged and followed the recipe.
While the matzo balls chilled in the fridge, Jed cooked some carrot slices in chicken broth. We used boxed broth, but one of the cool things about this recipe is it written for a home cooked soup: you would make you soup, skim the chicken fat off the top, add the fat to the matzo balls, and cook the balls in the soup. Jed also noted that the carrots are essential; they help to break up the saltiness of the broth and the matzo, and gives your palette a rest.
The featherballs are dropped into boiling chicken broth.
When the broth came to a rolling boil, we dropped the featherballs in and covered the pot. 18 minutes later they were done. Be careful not to cook them too long–they begin to fall apart in the water. Some may be a little underdone in the middle, which is fine. We turned off the burner and served us up a bowl of featherballs.
I have to admit, I have no basis of comparison, these being perhaps the second matzo balls I’ve had in my life. But I did think they were really good. Jed and Ilana have grown up on matzo. The three of us agreed the texture was great–Jed and Ilana said much less dense than an ordinary matzo ball. It was light, but also very hearty. After eating four, we were full.
We couldn’y taste the ginger in the featherballs, although they were still salty and good. The nutmeg taste was present, and they were deigned the favorites by Jed and Ilana. For me, it was hard. I associate the taste of nutmeg with dense cakes of the 1850s, and it was difficult to get out of the mindset. We speculate that mace (the spicy out shell of a nutmeg) might also make a good featherball.
The featherballs were really perfect. Ilana hit the nail on the head: “These are the best matzo balls I’ve ever had. I think we’ve really rediscovered something.”
In the coming weeks, we plan on doing one more Jewish cooking day based on our Manischewitz cookbook. Ilana and Jef will handle savory dishes (pumpkin pancakes, tamales, asparagus wheel) and I’ll attack sweets (boston pie, orient cake, farfelroons). I will keep you updated as to our progress.


Bacardi: The Original Mojito Since 1862?

From The Intoxicologist is in:

“BACARDI®, the world’s number-one selling rum, today announced the launch of a new multi-media advertising and marketing campaign that emphasizes the brand’s 147-year history and rum making expertise. Featuring an all-new BACARDI Mojito television spot entiled “Eras,” the campaign seeks to convey the message that the best Mojitos are made with BACARDI, the innovative rum brand first used to make this legendary cocktail.”

Take a look:

Permit me to nerd out for a moment.

1. Ok, I really dig the song.
2.  While they do a great job capturing the general ambiance for most decades, the costumes on the Victorian women suck.  Keep in mind the Victorian era spans about 60 years.    The costumes in that “era,” while individually beautiful, are some sort of amalgamation of the 1820s, the 1870s and the 1890s, and definitely NOT 1862.  Except for maybe the Col. Sanders looking dude. And who has ever dressed like that tart that gives him the eye at the end? (history nerds: are they doing the Virginia reel?)(update: confirmed. they are doing the Reel.)
3.  “Since 1862, the best mojitos have always been made the same way.”  Mojitos…in 1862?  When I saw this commercial for the first time during the Daily Show last night, I was hard pressed to believe mojitos had been around since 1862.  Not only have I never come across a mojito recipe, they aren’t similar to anything else imbibed at that time.  Except, perhaps, their distant cousin, the mint julep.
I first checked with our old friend Jerry Thomas (who’s book was coincidentally published in 1862.)  Not a mojito to be found.  I began to scour the internets.
From Wikipedia:

“Cuba is the birthplace of the mojito, although the exact origin of this classic cocktail is the subject of debate. One story traces the mojito to a similar 16th century drink, the “El Draque,” in honor of Sir Francis Drake. It was made initially with tafia/aguardiente, a primitive predecessor of rum, but as soon as Spanish rum became widely available to the British (ca. 1650) they changed it to rum.  Mint, lime and sugar were also helpful in hiding the harsh taste of this spirit. While this drink was not called a mojito at this time, it was still the original combination of these ingredients..

So while a combination of ingredients similar to the mojito existed, in the 19th c. it was being drunk by the Cuban working class.  Definitely not Victorian tarts in spangly dresses.

I’ve also read that  “The earliest “mojito” recipes…found are from 1931 and 1936 editions of a Sloppy Joe’s Bar Manual.”  Sloppy Joe’s was a famous bar in Cuba, where Hemingway apparently popularized the drink.

Bacardi was founded in Cuba, and it was known for refining what was a previously unrefined drink.  Rum was a dark pungent spirit; Bacardi classed it up by running it through a charcoal filter, creating a much lighter liqour appropriate for swanky bars.

And perhaps that’s what happened to the Mojito; it transformed from the rugged El Draque, to the gentile Mojito with the creation of Bacardi Rum.

Read up for yourself, and weigh in:

The History of Bacardi

The History of the Mojito

The History of the Cuban Mojito

Other Rum drinks from the 1860s:

Rum Punch

Rum Flip

Hot Spiced Rum

P.S–Nothing personal against mojitos.  They’re delicious.

History Dish Mondays: Cooking with Schmaltz, Part One

Chicken cookies triumphant.

I’m embarking on a new project with my friend Ilana. While at her bubbe‘s for Passover, Ilana came across a Manischewitz Matzo Meal cookbook from 1930. It was printed both in Yiddish and in English, and the recipes were in a similar vein, featuring Kosher preparations for America classics such as Boston Cream Pie.

I had remembered reading about these duel-language cookbooks in Laura Schenone’s book 1,000 Years Over a Hot Stove. Schenone writes:
“As the 20th century marched on, many Jewish women felt comfortable assimilating through the table, partaking in the fruits of American technology and convenience and all its symbols of progress. It was possible to do this, they proved, and still remain Jewish in identity, soul, and even according to religious law, if they wished.”
The assimilation of Jewish immigrants through food seemed to be happening largely from 1900-1935 and it resulted in an unique cuisine that was simultaneously traditionally Jewish and modern American. Product cook books, like the one printed by Manischewitz, seemed especially intent on creating this modern, hybrid woman.
So we got curious what these recipes tasted like. Ilana and I perused Tempting Kosher Dishes, and selected a few recipes that seemed like the best examples of the hybrid cuisine. This week, I’m cooking up a batch of Mock Oatmeal Cookies:

Yes, these cookies are made with “melted chicken fat.” Chicken cookies.
Mock Oatmeal Cookies
From Tempting Kosher Dishes, B. Manischewitz Co., 1930
2 cups matzo meal
2 cups matzo farfel
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup walnuts
2/3 cup schmaltz
4 eggs
1 tsp. cinnamon
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cream together the schmaltz and the sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each one.
3. In a separate bowl, stir together cinnamon and matzo meal. With the mixer on low, slowly add the matzo meal. Mix until combined.
4. Stir in the walnuts and matzo farfel. Drop teaspoon sized lumps onto a greased or silicon cookie sheet.
5. Bake 15 minutes, or until bottoms are golden brown. Cool and enjoy.
**note: I would recommend doubling the amount of walnuts (or raisins) and adding 3/4 salt to the matzo meal.
My lips had never touched schmaltz until I moved to New York. Traditionally Jewish, it’s chicken fat, used to replace butter when necessary according to Kosher laws. It’s commercially available, but traditionally skimmed off the top of stock. I was having a hard time getting my hands on it in my largely Greek and Hispanic neighborhood. But fortune smiled, and while out on a video shoot, I brought up my search for schmaltz to food journalist (and schmaltz advocate) Josh Ozersky and chef Marco Canora of Hearth and Insieme. We were on our way to Insieme, when Marco mentioned he had just cooked up a pot of chicken stock, and would be more than happy to skim me some schmaltz from the top. I was beyond thrilled–looks like I owe Marco some Mock Oatmeal Cookies.
Marco skims for schmaltz. What a great guy.

Matzo Meal is ground Matzo; while Matzo Farfel is crushed or crumble Matzo. It’s worth it buying it in canisters as opposed to breaking up Matzo crackers. It’s cheaper and saves time.
I mixed this recipe as I would a normal cookie dough, although this batter was definitely thinner. By mixing in the Matzo Farfel at the very end, it stayed crispier, and added more texture. I left out the raisins, because I hate fruit in my cookies. I sampled some of the dough before popping it in the oven: It had a disturbing chicken aftertaste.
Left: Matzo farfel. Right: Mock Oatmeal Dough.

A half hour was far too long a bake time for these cookies, and I burned my first batch. The second batch I baked 15 minutes, and they came out perfectly brown on the bottom. I offered one to my roommate without telling him what was in it.
The verdict? Well, we both ate two. The chicken aftertaste had somehow baked away. They had a great texture, similar to a scone: crisp on the outside, and surprising soft and cake like on the inside, despite the lack of leavening. The matzo farfel really crunched and popped in you mouth. It would be a good cookie with a cup of coffee.
I did find the cookies needed a bit of salt; I would probably add 3/4 tsp the next time I made them. Adding more walnuts wouldn’t have hurt either.
In fact, I would make these cookies again. I think they’re made even more appealing because of their unique origins. Not bad for a cookie that started off smelling like chicken soup.
Next week, Featherballs: a matzo ball seasoned with ginger or nutmeg, fried in schmaltz.

Retronovated Recipes: Barley Risotto with Wild Greens

Barley Risotto with Nettle Leaves and Wild Onions.

Last week, when we downed our sticky yet filling Nettle Pudding, we all agreed it could probably be adapted into something more appetizing.

Barley Risotto with Wild Greens
With additional inspiration from Martha Stewart’s Parmesan-Carrot Risotto.
3-4 cups beef broth or stock
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
A handful of wild onions
1 bunch nettle leaves
coarse salt and ground pepper
1/2 cup barley
1/2 cup booze
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1. Microwave stock until steaming. Set aside.

2. Wash the wild onions well, and prepare by slicing off the roots and tough green leaves. It should look similar to a pearl onion.

3. Prepare the nettle by plucking the leaves off of the stem. Remember to wear gloves! Rinse the leaves well.

4. Brown the onions in a skillet with 1tbsp butter and 1tbsp olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper. Cook until soft, about 5-7 minutes.

5. Add the nettle leaves and saute 1-2 minutes, until wilted.

6. Add the barley to the skillet and mix with other ingredients.

7. Add the 1/2 cup booze. I ended up using sweet vermouth because there was nothing else in the house, but a red wine would probably work best. Stir, and cook until booze is absorbed.

8. Add 1 cup hot broth; simmer over medium-low, stirring frequently until mostly absorbed, 10-12 minutes. Continue to add broth, one cup at a time, stirring occasionally until it is mostly absorbed. Cook until rice is creamy and tender, 20-30min.

9. Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan and remaining butter.
This is very rich; I’d recommend it as a side served with more vegetables, or with meat.

History Dish Mondays: The 8,000 Year Old Recipe

Nettle pudding.

Nettle pudding has been declared Britain’s oldest recipe. From

Not helping the culinary reputation of their countrymen at all, British archaeologists and food experts have announced what they say is the U.K.’s oldest recipe, an 8,000-year-old list of instructions for nettle pudding–or as we might dub it in the present day, weed glop.”


Nettle pudding

Original recipe from Daily Mail UK Online

2 bunches of young nettle leaves
Any combination of 4 wild greens, such as:

bunch of sorrel
bunch of watercress
bunch of dandelion leaves
Some chives

1 cup of barley flour
1 teaspoon salt

Chop the herbs finely and mix in the barley flour and salt. Add enough water to bind it together and place in the centre of a linen or muslin cloth. Tie the cloth securely and add to a pot of simmering venison or wild boar (a pork joint will do just as well). Leave in the pot until the meat is cooked and serve with chunks of bread.


Reading over the recipe, I realized it was made with wild greens that would have been gathered from the cook’s surroundings. So, even though I live in Queens, I decided to make my recipe with wild greens gathered from *my* surroundings.

WARNING! If you don’t know anything about wild plants, you can poison yourself. I grew up in a rural area in a family full of chemists, so I have some background in identifying wild edibles. Don’t try this at home if your only experience involves me, or looking at photos on the internet.

Wild onion sprouts in a housing project.

I got the idea to try hunting and gathering in New York after I saw wild onions springing up in the yards of the Ravenswood Housing Projects. The lawns have gone to seed; which was great for me. On a walk home from my boyfriend’s house, I hopped the fence and snipped some of the green onion tops. This lot was also bursting with violets, another edible plant, but one I didn’t think was appropriate for this particular recipe. I tucked the onions into a plastic bag with a damp towel, so they wouldn’t wilt.

Next I came across a vacant lot, and found another plant I had been searching for: Lamb’s Quarter. I first learned about lamb’s quarter while working on a video with chef Bill Telepan, who also uses wild leeks and ferns in his cuisine.

The lamb’s quarter were just babies, since it’s so early in the season, but they would do. I snipped them and added them to my baggy.

I also squeezed through a locked gate to grab a couple handfuls of what I thought was wild yellow sorrel, but after bringing it home I wasn’t sure. I decided to pitch it, and wait until I had more sorrel information.
Dandelion greens grocery store.

Lastly, I passed by an embankment near the East River and collected some young dandelion leaves. They are best eaten before they flower.
While I was foraging, I really expected to be treated like a crazy person. It’s not often you seen some one picking weeds out of a vacant lot in Queens. But strangely–people went out of there way to be nice to me, and say “hello.” I guess carrying a handful of green stuff = good person in the universal judgement book.

I brought everything home and washed them thoroughly in a colander. I even used a touch of soup. I sampled a few leaves–the onions were especially flavorful and delicious. The dandelions were bitter, but bearable, and the lamb’s quarter was delicate.
Left: Wild onion greens and lamb’s quarter, foraging in Queens. Right: Stinging Nettle

I couldn’t find the recipe’s namesake, Nettle, in the wild. So I stopped by the Paffenroth Gardens stall at the Union Square Green Market and picked up a bunch.

When I got home, I pulled the nettle leaves from the stems (I recommend wearing gloves; they ain’t called stinging nettles for nothing). I then chopped all of my greens finely, and mixed them together.

I was not able to find barley flour in the grocery story; I bought barley in hopes of making my own, but it turns out I need a “grain grinder.” So I substituted a cup of regular flour, and added just enough water to make it wet enough to bind together–about 1/2 cup. I formed it into a ball, and wrapped it in cheesecloth, tying off the end with a twist tie.
Left: Adding flour and water, and forming into a ball. Right: The ball is wrapped in cheesecloth, and dropped into a simmering pot of hot ham water.
I had a ham bone in the freezer, left over from Easter, and I threw that in a big pot of water and let it come to a simmer. I dipped in my cheesecloth encased ball, and let it simmer for an hour.

An hour later, we had what one of my friends described as a “hammy leafy wheat ball.” I told her to be quiet because she was about to put a time machine in her mouth. When I unwrapped the cheesecloth, the pudding was surprising firm and a deep green. I scooped servings onto slices of bread.

The verdict? Not bad. I wouldn’t make it for pleasure, but the taste was surprisingly mild. Any hint of bitterness from the greens was gone, and they were all very tender. The dish was also very filling: my friends and I ate our whole servings, then hiked and played 4-square for 5 hours. And we felt good.
I feel like Nettle Pudding was designed to put to good use spring greens, a food that while very nutritious was not very filling on its own. Barley flour would have added even more nutrients to this dish. The dish was also designed to be eating with meat. The pudding helped a small amount of meat go a long way, much in the same way rice or grits are used as a filler.

And I have to say, it was pretty cool to eat something very similar to what people were eating 8,000 years ago.

For more wild greens and ways to cook them, check out my video with Bill Telepan on

And if you live in New York , take a foraging tour with Wild Man Steve Brill.